Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Critical Order's Top 10 Favorite Characters

The characters that make me the character I am.

I'm not exactly a convention critic. I don't tend to like things that most people like, and I usually offer a detailed explanation for why I feel that way. Sometimes people are able to understand why, but most of the time people just simply don't. I have nothing against them, opinions are opinions after all, but I've made it a point every year to make a Top 10 list that's more personal than every other list I do during the year. Instead of doing a list based off of ideas I have, I have one list at the beginning of December that let people see what forms my standards and what I classify as being my favorite movies/games/etc.

I always think that the best way to understand a person and their opinions is to simply see what a person values as their favorite things. That way, it's easier for people to see just what exactly "the best" is, which can then inform why a person may or may not like another thing. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is my favorite Disney musical, so when I say that movies like Moana and Hercules pale in comparison to it, a person can go watch Hunchback and see what my definition of "the best" is.

This year, I wanted to take a different approach and talk about my Top 10 Favorite Characters because characters are the means to tell a story. They can be a POV character, a villain to root against, a lover, a fighter, a comedy relief, a tragic hero, or a million other shades of characterization. A good character should feel like they have a developed personality that goes beyond the work of fiction they're created for. People talk about characters like Elsa, Batman, Goku, and Clementine as being good characters because they feel real, even though they're not. They can be entertaining, threatening, but no matter what, they're memorable and leave a lasting impact on your personality, whether you like it or not.

And so before I talk about my favorite characters, I wanted to mention a few ground rules. The characters, first and foremost, must be fictional. A character ceases to be a character when they are an actual human being, so even a dramatization of a person would still be a portrayal of a human being, which doesn't seem fair. Also, I'm only including characters from movies/games/books/anime that I've seen. I know for a fact that people consider Wander from Shadow of the Colossus to be a great character, but because I've never played the game, I can't say if I like him based off his journey. I understand the basic plot, but until I experience their character arc first hand, it doesn't seem right to put them on the list. So with all of that said, here are the Top 10 characters that have made me the man I am today.

#10: Link from The Legend of Zelda series
In every Zelda game, there's always a boy in green that stands up to the darkness of the world.

Link is a bit of an odd character to start a list off with, seeing as how he really doesn't have any character outside of a few games, and even then his character can change from game to game, but it's what Link represents that makes him so interesting to me.

In every game (minus direct sequels), Link never strives to be the hero that the world needs. He always has greatness thrust upon him by outstanding circumstances. A giant bird takes your sister? Link takes up arms and inadvertently saves the world. Your best friend fell into a tornado? You mount a rescue mission that leads to the founding of Hyrule. You get a dream from a princess saying she needs to be saved? You save not only her, but a parallel dark world from an evil demon. In every instance, Link becomes a hero against his will, but he always saves the day. Link will always be able to stand up to whatever evil and save the world.

Not only that, but Link is the personification of Courage. In most Zelda games, Link is the chosen bearer of the Triforce of Courage, an artifact of the Gods that created the world. Link never starts out with the Triforce of Courage, but he's able to gain it by protecting the land, becoming a hero in the process. The very definition of heroism is displaying great courage, so Link's journey is the definition of the Hero's journey. In order for Link to save the world, he has to become a hero.

I may love talking about villains on this site, but I love seeing a good hero stand up to them, and Link is that hero.

#9: Pearl from Steven Universe
I don't know why, but whenever I talk to other Steven Universe fans about how much I like Pearl, they usually say that Pearl is their least favorite Crystal Gem. For the life of me, I could never understand that. There are so many great Pearl moments that it's almost impossible for me to keep track of them. Out of every Crystal Gem, Pearl may not have had the most development over the course of the series, but my God does she have so many fantastic moments and episodes.

Pearl's depth is completely reliant on the fact that she loves Rose, but can never have her. She died and is now in Steven, but Pearl just can't get over it. We see flashbacks of her constantly fawning over Rose, juztaposed with being Steven's primary mother figure in her life. Pearl's not prepared for this, and we see just how difficult it is to raise Steven knowing that he's Rose. Pearl's journey is all about accepting the fact Rose is gone and overcoming the memories of her former lover.

Rose loved Greg, and it takes so much time for Pearl to talk to Greg as a friend. Rose kept secrets from Pearl, and it's hard for Pearl to accept the fact that Rose wasn't fully honest with Pearl. Hell, Pearl herself is a common Gem foot soldier. There are thousands, if not millions of Pearls in the universe, and Pearl has to overcome to stigma that she's just another carbon copy Pearl. Not unique, low class, and worthless in the Homeworld hierarchy.

All of Pearl's developments are subtextually implied, and whenever the show dedicates entire episodes to Pearl, they're some of the best episodes of the series. "Rose's Scabbard" and "Mr. Greg" are some of my personal favorite episodes in the series, and both of those have beautiful Pearl moments in them. Pearl is just a character that you may not entirely like on the surface, but underneath her demeanor is a complex and rich character.

Though let's be honest here, Peridot is bae, am I right?

#8: Legato Bluesummers from Trigun
Even though he's a subordinate to Knives, the main villain of Trigun, everyone talks about Legato Bluesummers. Legato was the character that tore down the comedy of the series and made fans realize that this show could get DARK. He's introduced with a red background, decaying skull, and crushing a girl's skull. When Legato appeared, you know things were about to get real.

And yet, I love Legato because of how little he appears, and yet how much he impacts Vash in the most unexpected ways. Legato is a psychic that can make people do things against their free will. Legato never fights Vash, but instead presents him with massive moral quandaries. Legato will kill people right in front of Vash, who refuses to take a life, and constantly pushes Vash into moral grey area.

And yet, Legato never relishes in what he does. He's very similar to Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men and Ulquiorra from Bleach; a born nihilist that is entrenched in their moral philosophy. What makes Legato stand out though is that Legato eventually wins. Legato legitimately wins and breaks Vash's will and his spirit to fight.

But I love Legato because of how dangerous he can be. At the drop of a hat, he could be nice and polite to children, and then turn around and murder an entire bar. Even his associates are afraid of him, making Legato the closest to a force of nature in all of Trigun. I'm fascinated by characters that are less human as they are acts of God, a being that you can talk to and converse with, but can never understand or stop. Legato is a villain in every sense of the word, and I love him for it.

#7: Pink from Pink Floyd's The Wall
The best characters are usually the ones that you can relate to. Everyone has that one character that they adore mostly because they see a bit of themselves in them. It's almost as if that someone took your personality and traits and put it into a movie. That's Pink from Pink Floyd's The Wall.

And I think I should be afraid of the fact that I see a bit of myself in Pink.

Pink is the definition of an isolationist, opening up to only a few people in his entire life, only to be hurt by each of them. His father died, his mother is distant, he was abused in school, his wife left him, and he can't connect with people that are only interested in superificial elements. He's a musician and people only care about the songs he writes and not himself. So he closes himself up from everyone and is content with being completely and utterly alone.

Now I obviously don't share a majority of these things with Pink. My dad's not dead, my mother and I get along fine, school was fine, I'm not married, and I've never cared about superficial things in people. That being said, I'm an isolationist. I don't like talking to most people and I would rather be alone, and Pink's reasons for being alone are very similar to my own, hell, to anyone that's ever wanted to be alone in general. He's been hurt by others and would rather be with people he could trust. Unfortunately, Pink has no one like that except memories of his younger self, and even his illusion breaks down when he realizes that not even his child version of himself can relate to his adult self.

Again, I'm not like Pink, but Pink is one of those characters that I wonder if I could be if I was a different man. Pink is a scarily relatable character, and I hope I never become him.

#6: Raven from DC Comics
Back in the day, I was a huge Teen Titans fan, and my favorite two characters on the show were Raven and Starfire. I loved both of them for their polar personalities, but as time went on and I learned more about each of them, I still love them both, but I think I enjoy Raven's character just a little bit more.

Raven is the ultimate outsider, being an empath that can't really relate well to others, and for being the daughter of an interdimmensional, demonic tyrant. You know, as you do. Raven takes mostly after her mother, but she constantly has to fight her literal demons within her to keep her powers in check, or else catastrophic events may occur.

I have a thing with outsider characters, and Raven's dry cynicism mixed in with her inability to properly interact with people make her not only interesting to watch, but compelling to understand. There was a fantastic episode of Teen Titans where Raven's personality split into several different personas, and all of them were parts of Raven that we never see before. In order for Raven to function in society, she needs to contain her emotions or else risk causing major harm with them.

How relatable is that? You can't express yourself in front of others, or bad things will happen to everyone around you or even yourself. I love Starfire a lot and think he permanent optimism is refreshing, but I think of it like this; Starfire is the girl you want to be with for a month or so, but Raven is the kind of girl you want as a best friend. I urge everyone to go out and read the Raven mini series going on at the moment because it's incredibly satisfying and worth the time.

#5: Vyse from Skies of Arcadia
I love pirates. Pirates are so damn cool to me.

If there's a game being made that involves pirates, I'm usually one of the first people to go out and pick it up, and there's nothing cooler than seeing sky pirates. Pirates that fly around in giant airborne pirate ships. That's just awesome no matter which way you slice it.

Vyse is the captain of the Delphinus and the main character of Skies of Arcadia. Unlike Link, Vyse actually talks and has a personality, making it a lot easier for me to relate to him. Vyse loves adventure, plain and simple. I wish there was more to say about Vyse and his personality, but that's all that I really need from Vyse. He's a man who love to explore and be a pirate and treasures every second of it. His goal is to sail around the world and prove that it's a sphere, and you feel like a pirate captain when you play as him.

No matter what happens over the course of the game, Vyse is always an optimist and never beats himself up about anything. Did the Valuan Empire just burn down an entire city? Don't worry, we'll make them pay for this! Was a giant monster unleashed upon the world? Then man the battle stations, cause we're going to take it down! There's a giant storm that separates a part of the world that's never been explored? Well guess where we're going then!

Whenever Vyse was motivating his crew, I always believed him every step of the way. He's a leader that anyone would be proud to follow, but most importantly, Vyse just loves life! I haven't seen a protagonist in any game that's as energetic and passionate about what they love than Vyse. It's impossible not to have a smile on your face when Vyse is present, and he's one of the biggest reasons why I enjoy sailing the skies in Skies of Arcadia.

#4: Mikan Tsumiki from the Danganronpa series
Mikan is... a strange character to say the least. But it's that strangeness that makes her incredibly compelling.

Oh, spoilers from Danganronpa 2 by the way!

When you first meet Mikan, she's really just the comic relief/fan service character. She always falls and flashes the audience and is put into a bunch of sensual predicaments, but is quick to apologize for it. She's the Ultimate Nurse, so she has a ton of medical expertise as well. She also has crippling self esteem issues and may or may not fall into revealing positions for attention. So on the surface, she just seems like another ho-hum anime character, but then we actually get to know her... and the results are kind of horrifying.

Mikan is a deeply sadistic person that only became a nurse so that people could rely on her. She;s fascinated with people being injured so that they need her, and even contemplates making the main character an invalid so they could never leave her and only rely on her for the rest of their lives. So... she's a yandere, right? Well, it gets even better!

It turns out that Mikan's also a murderer that lost her mind years ago by Junko Enoshima, Mikan's lover. And together, they pretty much ushered in the apocalypse until Junko died. Once she died, Mikan did the only rational thing she could think of... grafting a part of her lover onto her body! So Mikan slowly starts to reveal her psychotic demeanor as you spend more time with her as she screams that everyone hates her, wants her dead, and it's everyone else's fault for hating her.

So... that's... fairly unique. She ranks so high on my list just because there's so much complexity to her emotions and her interactions with people. Plus I can't really think of any other character like her. Sure, there are plenty of psychopaths in anime, female ones at that, but they don't have as much tragedy and pathos and Mikan does... only for you to then lose it when she's brutally murders people and wants you as her personal invalid. You know, because Japan!

#3: Bill Cipher from Gravity Falls
Characters like Bill are hard to describe, but it's not hard for me to say why I love this little interdimmensional demon!

Bill bounces between being a funny side character to one of the most dastardly villains in all of Gravity Falls. He's the final villain that Dipper and Mabel have to face, and yet he's someone that's been present since the very beginning of the series. Gravity Falls is a show that actively rewards its viewers for solving its difficult mysteries, and Bill has been one of the biggest mysteries about the show. What is he? Why is he so feared? What are his goals? When we finally do get answers to those questions, you'll have to pick your jaw off the floor.

On his own though, Bill is a sadist that derives enjoyment from literally any form of suffering. Is someone dedicating their loyalty to him? Bill will rearrange every hole in their face for fun. He'll eradicate the peace keepers of the space time continuum just because they're ruining a party he has. Hell, pretty much all of his plans succeed to an extent, and he only loses because he underestimates humans.

Plus I just love his design! The Illuminati pyramid that a top hat and cane that can transform himself into various forms? It's great! Whether it's him becoming a giant, a 3D object, or just a giant monster to hunt down Dipper and Mabel, Bill is striking to look at. If you're a fan of the show, anytime you see a triangle with an eye, you instantly think of this little monster.

Bill is the perfect villain for Gravity Falls. He's a mystery wrapped in an enigma, and he's a blast to watch in the few episodes he's in.

#2: Edmund Dantes from The Count of Monte Cristo
How far would you go for revenge against the people that wronged you? In the case of Edmund Dantes, you'll wait for decades and amass a gigantic fortune just to destroy each and everyone of them individually.

Edmund, though he's better known as the eponymous Count of Monte Cristo, was a sailor in love with a beautiful woman named Mercedes, but when a group of conspirators banded together to frame him for a crime, cover up any traces of their involvement, and break up the two lovers, Dantes is sent to jail for years and years, plotting his revenge against them all and trying to figure out a way to get Mercedes back from one of the conspirators, who ended up marrying her.

I know I said I related to Pink and Raven to some extent, but the Count is the one person that I can understand the most. He's not me, but I can completely understand why he does what he does. He wants revenge against people that have done him wrong. I can get that. Working tirelessly in order to achieve that goal? Again, I understand.

However, the Count does it all so effortlessly and seemlessly. It doesn't look like he put any effort at all into his plans. He socializes with each of the conspirators, becoming good friends with them and making them trust him, only for them to come crashing back down to Earth. The Count is so suave that if he blatantly told me that he was going to ruin my life and make me regret ever crossing him, I would totally understand and offer to help him do it! He's that persuasive.

Most importantly though, he's steadfast. Once he has his mind set on something, it's going to get done. He'll never change his morals or his convictions, and there's something to admire about it. You may hate him, but you have to at least respect the dedication and passion he has for his desires. I know he's a villain, and he's a meticulous one at that, but there are times where he doesn't seem like a villain at all. He just seems like a man that wants justice in the world, and when a villain can convince you that they're not evil, they're a well developed character.

A villain never truly sees themselves as a villain, and The Count is some one who never identifies himself as a villain. He's the hammer of God. He's God's vengeance. He's tipping the scales of justice back to where they should be. What's so wrong about that?

#1: Superman from DC Comics
Superman is heroism.

There's a popular sentiment going around nowadays saying that Superman isn't interesting. He's just a boy scout with superpowers. He has so many powers and he's so overpowered that he's impossible to beat. No one can beat Superman, ergo he's not interesting. Batman is compelling because he's human, and a tragic one at that. Superman isn't relatable because he isn't human. He's a God.

These are all arguments that have been repeated for years, especially leading up to Batman V. Superman, but here's the thing. Superman is a God, yes, but he's a human God. There are so many times where Superman villains, whether it's Zod or Luthor, saying that Superman is a Kryptonian, so he can never truly be human or understand humans.

Except that Superman identifies himself as Clark Kent first and foremost. If he was a God, then he wouldn't create the Superman persona. He would be Overman, a Nazi version of Superman with no other persona The fact that Clark Kent exists is enough to prove that Superman has the mind of a human and the compassion of you or I. The conflict of Superman isn't the see if someone can punch him to death like Doomsday, one of the worst Superman villains of all time, but how much he should interfere in world affairs. How much should he help people, and would he be able to stand idly by as villains attacked civilians? Superman's struggle is a moral one, not a physical one. The idea that Superman's biggest difficulties are enemies that can stand up to his powers is boring.

Of course he can win any battle, but that's not the point of him. There are tons, and I mean tons, of comics where Superman fight enemies, but the struggle is either and ethical or moral one. You have Kingdom Come, All Star Superman, Superman: American Alien, What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?, and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? to show that Superman is Clark Kent first and Superman second. It just so happens that Clark Kent is an upstanding figure that genuinely cares about others.

There's a single scene in All Star Superman that boils down why Superman is my favorite character of all time, and it's a short scene at that. A woman is about to jump off of a skyscraper and kill herself. Before she jumps though, Superman appears behind at just says to her that it's never as bad as it seems and that she's stronger than she thinks she is. He just talks to her and treats her with respect and kindness. That's being a hero. That's what it means to be a super hero, and that's why Superman is my favorite fictional character. He's the character we all aspire to be.

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